Collaborative Forest Tour

This report was written by Joan Cutuly

On June 26, the Rockaway Beach Citizens for Watershed Protection co-sponsored a forest management and ecology tour with Oregon Wild and North Coast State Forest Coalition. The purpose of the tour was to learn how different types of forest management and ownership affect our environment, economy, and public health.

The tour began with a walk along the salt water marsh bordering Nedonna Beach, just north of Rockaway Beach. From the marsh’s edge, the group looked east across Highway 101 at the hills of privately owned forest that has been recently clear cut along Jetty Creek. From that vantage point, it was pointed out the reasons why avoiding that kind of intensive logging is in the best interest of the land and all living things.

From a panoramic viewpoint, it was possible to see how the consequences of stripping a hillside of trees would travel all the way to the sea. As water runs downhill without trees to soak it up, that runoff finds its way into creek beds, muddying drinking water not only through soil erosion but with toxins from herbicide and rodenticides sprayed on the clear cut to keep down the competition following replanting.

 

For decades, logging has been a source of livelihood and pride here in the Pacific Northwest. But what might we be exchanging for the quick and easy industrial removal of trees? Long before this region became the logging center of the country, Henry Thoreau wrote: “The cost of a thing is the amount of…life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

The cost of clear cutting is dear and grave and often masked by a buffer of trees that hides the clear cut from public scrutiny and even from our awareness. As we could see from the beach, any run off from the Jetty Creek clear cut is destined by the laws of physics to find its way into the Jetty Creek drinking water source—not only muddying the water from soil erosion but bringing with it contaminants from the common practice of aerial spraying supported by Oregon law. Human residents are not the only inhabitants affected as the unhealthy water flows across Highway 101 into Nedonna Marsh—a marsh that is a spawning ground for Coho, as well as a habitat for heron, eagles, osprey, ducks, river otters, seals, and many species of song birds. The area is also a fishing and recreational paradise for locals and visitors.

Erosion is not the only threat to the land, as development threatens to affect the mossy woods, rich with flora and trails that many people share with the birds and other wildlife.

What are the costs that come with the profits to be made by clear cutting and insensitive development? The answer came on the second half of the tour. Just south of Cannon Beach, the group hiked into a section of forest that has been given the opportunity to regenerate itself. Such a forest exemplifies all that is to be gained in preserving our forests through sustainable management. Perhaps most importantly, a forest such as this serves as a giant collector of carbon that can operate on the first line of defense in our battle against global warming.

Maintaining a diverse forest canopy significantly lowers stream temperatures, a key to protecting salmon, known as an indicator species here in the Pacific Northwest. As the salmon population goes, so goes the health of the environment. Gone are the days when salmon ran so thick a person could walk across a stream on their backs. We asked too much of the salmon who now in their own way are warning us that a culture that supports laws permitting the stripping, poisoning, and exploitation of the land is ensuring its own decline.

By contrast, an old forest that is rich with loamy soil tells the story and understory of a healthy culture. In such a forest, we experience the life-giving force and the diversity of flora and fauna which is in direct contrast to the stark monoculture of a managed forest that is cut every fifty years and managed with chemicals. “In wildness,” wrote Thoreau, “is the preservation of the world.”

The tour group had lunch sitting on the roots of Oregon’s largest tree—a cedar as old as eight-hundred years. The Old One knew the wild that existed before Columbus and was towering toward the sky long before the birth of our Constitution. Such a tree reminds us of all the damage it has been possible for us to do in the short lifespan of our industrialized culture. And it asks us to contemplate whether the economic benefits of such a culture are worth the cost to the health of our environment and all living creatures. It also asks who we will become as a people if we continue to live by laws that enable the abuse of the land that sustains us.

Our Coalition’s Comments on ODF’s Plans for 2016

To the Oregon Department of Forestry,

Thank you for considering the North Coast State Forest Coalition’s comments on FY2017 Annual Operations Plans for the Tillamook, Astoria, and Forest Grove Districts. We appreciate the time and care that went into these AOPs and would encourage Salem and district staff to engage us regarding any of our remarks below. Several remarks are similar or identical to those made by our Coalition regarding previous AOPs and reflect ongoing themes in the yearly plans that we would like to see addressed.

General comments regarding all three districts:

  • Our primary concern with these AOPs is the significant increase in clearcut acreage on all three districts. Meanwhile partial cut ranges have been decreased on all three districts (to a low of 0 acres in the Forest Grove and Tillamook Districts and 100 acres in the Astoria District). Clearcutting and associated activities are often detrimental to fish & wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, public health, and slope stability. This move from a balance between thinning and clearcutting has been explained in Appendix G of all three AOPs, but signals a lack of available acres for partial cuts and calls to question the overall sustainability of harvest levels and the ability to grow various forest structures across the landscape. State forest clearcutting contributes minimal habitat value on the north coast, while thinning has the potential to contribute to harvest levels and habitat value simultaneously. If this move is primarily driven by a lack of thinning opportunities, it would be desirable to know when those opportunities will reemerge. If this is a long term concern, harvest levels should be lowered. If this move is driven by the economics of clearcutting vs. thinning, we would urge you to not only consider the environmental and social impacts of clearcutting, but also review a recent publication by the USDA which indicates the habitat and timber value increases associated with thinning in the coast range: Effect of Habitat-Improvement Thinnings on Lumber Products from Coastal Douglas-fir by Dennis P. Dykstra, Patricia K. Lebow, Stephen Pilkerton, R. James Barbour, Susan Stevens Hummel, and Stuart R. Johnston, April 2016 (http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_rp605.pdf?).
  • The amount of aerial pesticide application is troubling. Pesticide drift can cause public health problems and pesticides that find their way into waterways degrade water quality for humans and aquatic wildlife. These AOPs indicate that site preparation and vegetation management will require nearly 5,000 acres to be sprayed, much of it aerially. For public lands, this is unacceptable.
  • The massive road network across all three districts continues to grow. The AOPs indicate a net increase of 24.5 miles to the already dense road network. While road improvement is welcome, we believe that the road network should be reduced to improve watershed health. High road density has been shown to contribute to habitat degradation. The density on private land holdings in these watersheds is also very high and ODF holdings should mitigate for the private road network. Furthermore, an ever increasing road network footprint decreases land for marketable timber.
  • We are glad to see that district staff is contributing its time and expertise to help with inventory questions which are critical to any long term planning. Accurate inventory and growth data is obviously a priority.
  • It is disappointing that the FY2017 AOPs only support base level maintenance of existing recreational infrastructure due to budget constraints. We will continue to advocate for supplemental financial support and alternative revenue sources for important recreation programs and we urge the Department to do the same. We are excited for an updated version of the Tillamook State Forest Recreation Map and would be keen to support the Department in this venture.
  • It is welcome to see no planned clearcuts in Terrestrial Anchor Sites.
  • There are high clearcut levels in several Aquatic Anchors, including Buster Creek, Upper North Fork Nehalem, Lousignont Creek/Upper Nehalem (nearly 1000 clearcut acres), East Fork South Trask, and Little North Fork Wilson. These areas are obviously critical for a variety of fish species. While slightly improved buffers are welcome in AAs, we would recommend focusing harvest away from these anchors.
  • All three districts note extensive plans for mountain beaver We understand the importance of protecting young trees. The Forest Grove District remarks that mountain beaver populations are increasing and are historically high. It may be beneficial to examine the causes of this rather than only focus on trapping.
  • We encourage the Department to support the Salmonberry Trail project, but we would request that the Salmonberry conservation commitments and their promotion be a priority.
  • We urge you to take seriously and follow the recommendations in the ODFW Biologist Review.
  • Policy Bulletin SFB 13-02 runs counter to the ODFW recommendations that “GTs should be avoided in or adjacent to RMAs and GTAs as their functions as structural components are minimized.” The proper scientific function of green trees and snags should certainly take priority over “efficient harvest units.” The Policy Bulletin is only referenced in the Tillamook AOP, but the ODFW recommendations are found across all three Districts.
  • We encourage the Department to be aggressive in seeking restoration project opportunities. To our mind, it is unfortunate that these important projects are only done opportunistically. Watershed restoration should be a priority.

Comments specific to Astoria District operations:

  • We are keen to better understand the Major Modification to the IP as described in Appendix F and would like to meet with ODF staff to discuss the modification. The amount of 76-100 year old acres being replaced by 26-50 year old acres in the DFC Complex allotment is concerning.
  • Area 1 of Rector Quad appears to offer uncommon habitat type as a mixed age stand with older trees. We would like to view this sale with ODF staff to understand the forest structure and prescription better. This sale also includes management activity within ¼ mile of a marbled murrelet management area.
  • The Astoria District AOP is unique in that it explicitly omits right-of-way acres for new road construction in harvest acreage (page 4). This seems counterintuitive as those acres are typically logged before road construction and no longer offer conservation value. We would like to know if this practice is the same for the Tillamook and Forest Grove Districts.

Comments specific to Tillamook District operations:

  • We are keen to better understand the Major Modification to the IP as described in Appendix F and would like to meet with ODF staff to discuss the modification.

Comments specific to Forest Grove District operations:

  • We are keen to better understand the Major Modification to the IP as described in Appendix F and would like to meet with ODF staff to discuss the modification. It would be helpful to have the type of information that the Tillamook and Clatsop District AOPs articulate in Figures 1 and 2 of Appendix F.
  • My Mulligan, Mega Lou Mania, and Step Over are all located near Lousignont Creek, a spawning stream for coastal coho salmon. These sales also include clearcutting relatively old forest stands. We are interested in learning more about these operations. It is concerning to see expansive clearcutting of old stands in this Aquatic Anchor.

Kings - Wilson Banner

Homesteader: 1890 – 2016

Northwest Oregon’s state-owned forests are comprised of less than .01% old growth, a stunning number that indicates their fraught history of devastating fires and aggressive logging. A notable forest parcel in the Clatsop State Forest, known as “Homesteader,” contained trees upwards of 125 years old that had survived massive fires and over a century of logging. This parcel had numerous old growth characteristics and showed signs of providing rare habitat for threatened species, including marbled murrelets, red tree voles, and northern spotted owls. It’s location on the bank of the Nehalem River made it important to aquatic species. And, for about two years, activists, surveyors, and researchers exploring the area enjoyed its accessibility, tranquility, and abundance of biodiversity.

Beginning in April of 2015, thousands of Oregonians submitted public comments to the Oregon Department of Forestry [ODF] asking that this parcel of old growth not be logged. Official public comments were supplemented by letters, media pieces, and general outcry from Oregonians (especially Clatsop County residents). The voices were varied but the message was clear: “old growth is rare, it is critical, it should not be logged.”

ODF responded to this message rapidly. On state forests, timber sales commonly take 1-3 years between the announcement of the sale and commencement of logging. In the case of Homesteader, perhaps because of intense public scrutiny and dissent, was logged less than 10 months after being announced. The trees were sold off in January and as of mid-March, what used to be a lush forest is now something altogether different:

Photo by Trygve Steen
Photo by Trygve Steen

Part of the blame for this expedited degradation of public land can be placed on ODF. However, the Agency is in a bind. They are expected to manage these state forests for a suite of values—social, environmental, and economic—yet they are only funded by logging. Moreover, 2/3 of state forest revenue goes to counties while 1/3 is retained by ODF. In 2015, state forest logging contributed $55 million to counties across Oregon. And yet, some counties are engaging in a disruptive lawsuit claiming that state forests are not producing enough timber! Meanwhile, ODF’s budget, like other natural resource agencies, continues to dwindle.

Oregon has changed and is changing. Logging is no longer a primary economic driver. While logging will remain a part of our history, culture, and (to an extent) our economy, Oregon’s present and future is built around outdoor recreation, fisheries, tourism, quality of life, and natural beauty. Yet private and public forest management has so far failed to keep up with the will of the people. Part of catching up is a balanced management plan for our coastal state forests, a plan that protects critical areas like Homesteader.

Photo by Trygve Steen
Photo by Trygve Steen

Homesteader will not “rest in peace.” This sale is a wakeup call to Oregonians who are content with our forest managers and an absolutely inadequate responsiveness to public will. ODF, the Governor’s office, and the Board of Forestry failed to protect one of the most critical patches of forest in Clatsop County and on Oregon’s north coast. Homesteader captured the imagination of coastal residents and forest activists throughout the state and their message was clear: stop degrading our forest watersheds and destroying our forest legacy. ODF’s failure to appropriately respond to this message means that we need to be stronger and louder.

Join us in Astoria!

Astoria Event Pic

Mark your calendars to celebrate and advocate for our state forests. We all need to stand up and make sure that Clatsop County opts out of the Linn County lawsuit. The future of the Clatsop State Forest should be a balanced, collaborative management plan, not an industrial tree farm!

What: A forest evening with the North Coast State Forest Coalition
Where: Lovell Showroom, Fort George Brewery, 1483 Duane St, Astoria
When: 6:30-8:30 pm, Friday March 11th
Why: 2016 is gearing up to be critical for protecting the Clatsop State Forest. Join others who care about conserving fish & wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, and recreation opportunities and lets keep Clatsop county out of a bad lawsuit!
Who: You and everyone you know!

Seeking balance for the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests–clean drinking water, healthy fish & wildlife habitat, and abundant recreation opportunities